A Dodo at Oxford – Atkins & Johnson (eds)

Is (eds) the right way to show that Messrs Atkins and Johnson are the editors of this curious little book? Perhaps.

So, a small, slightly damaged codex found in an Oxford Oxfam shop containing the first volume of the diaries of an unnamed resident of Oxford in the 17th century who came into possession of a dodo off of some dutchman. Possibly the last ever living dodo. And he decided to do some experiments on it, in the spirit of the times, to determine dodo’s personality and physical prowess. And then it comes into the hands of our editors, who first try to find who donated it (the diary) to the Oxfam shop. And then decide that it should be shared with the world, with various marginalia to cast some light on parts of the diary that might have otherwise been too recondite.

As wheezes go, this is up with the best of them. However, the “editors” seem a little bit too keen to make sure that everyone knows quite how clever they’ve been in inventing this book within a book. I didn’t mind the innumerable odds and ends “found” inside the book (a receipt for a dog’s train ticket, a stamp from Mauritius, cigarette card, anti-smoking bookmark, etc.) or the digression on pylons, or the editors’ handwritten notes on the editors’ notes (“wrong era, looks American”) that much. But what I did find annoying was the “dreams” of Mr Flay, which just seemed to be a big old flag waved to say “THIS ISN’T REAL. WE MADE IT ALL UP FOR LARKS.”

It’s not like it’s another Hitler diary. Or even Flashman. No one would really mind being fooled by this, and there’s enough really interesting stuff about printing and typography and dodos and Oxford and all sorts to make it worth reading anyway, but why shoot the pretence that it might possibly be real in the head quite so vigorously?